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Wind Systems....


David Coram
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Ok, ignorance time. I know what a Schwimmer does, but what I don't know is how old the design is, where it was first used and by who, whether it had an English counterpart with a quaint name, etc etc etc. I know New College runs off them, and is rock steady; the MF-G book on the firm seems to suggest a degree of sniffiness in the air at the time about them. I know of other all-English machines pre-New College (eg Wimborne Monster) that run off a variant of them, but without the adjustable springs, and aren't rock steady by any stretch of the imagination - presumably because there's no facility to adjust the behaviour of the pan. At the same time, there are instruments (the University Church, Oxford, Metzler 1986 and a fantastic musical instrument) that have no stabilising equipment at all beyond the reservoir, which itself appears to be little more than a lilo with bricks on, and yet the wind supply is absolutely fine & steady. There's much talk of tonal, action & casework preservation but I don't hear much being said about winding, after all one of the most critical factors in how an instrument sounds.

 

Is there current received wisdom about wind systems, what's hot and what's not? Is everyone building to traditional double-rise and Bishop pattern concussion? What would be considered acceptable to do to a Victorian instrument that's been prevously botched up in the 1960's - should you spend tons of money reverting to a traditional pattern, or is it accceptable to say that we can now do these things better and fit Schwimmers? I've done this myself on a couple of instruments where you couldn't actually play stuff with a busy pedal part, like the 2nd variation of Mendelssohn VI, without sending the thing barking mad. On one memorable occasion, the last page of Eben's Moto Ostinato didn't create any sound whatsoever after the third bar, other than thumping reservoirs and the odd gasp of half-blown mixtures. In both cases, traditional concussions had been removed (by a certain recently taken-over organbuilding firm in the west of England) and double rises converted to single, in an apparent effort to save money (read: increase profit margins). In both cases, we fitted new Schwimmers, but bearing in mind one was an 1860's Bishop and the other an 1880's Sweetland, I always wondered whether we had committed heresy and risked being sent to the ducking stool. At least you can now play them.

 

There seem to be other impediments to steady wind - I read once somewhere that right-angle bends in trunking without a 45 degree corner section create a "turbine" effect and cause problems. The physics stack up in a theoretical sense. But, taking the argument to its logical conclusion would have us all fitting Kopex instead, and I don't see that happening (thankfully).

 

Any information and experience shared would be of great benefit. Hopefully we will be spared any comments from Edna about either her problems with wind, or experiences of blowing - there, said it for you.

 

Yours,

Confused of Wiltshire

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This is an incredibly vast question, in which nobody can

pretend to know all.

But we can search togheter, and that would be indeed more

interesting by far than some other discussions!

 

I myself observed "steady wind" to be find rather in romantic

organs with many 8' flues -big consumers- with much nicking.

 

With ancient organs, or modern organs build after ancient styles,

the matter becomes *slightly* more complicated.

 

I know of a paper from Charles Fisk that could be an interesting

starting point. Here is it:

 

http://www.cbfisk.com/info/breath.html

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Well, that's a fascinating article - thank you.

 

I can't help wondering if it's a bit dated and dogmatic now - applies just fine to historic work, but being of the 21st century I want to play Langlais, Messiaen, Eben etc which needs if not completely static then fairly steady wind.

 

I don't know if it was accidental or deliberate, but the Schwimmers fitted to the 1880's Sweetland I mentioned seemed to be slightly fluid, or languid - there was just a tiny amount of flexibility and slow pulsing as Fisk describes on light/medium registrations, a sensation (barely more) that the wind was catching up with itself, but when you moved up to full blast and big double pedal notes they became bang on rock steady. Don't know how, don't know why, and not sure if the builder did either, but sure it was a good solution.

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A kind of "up-to-date" thinking might be summarized as this:

Wind system, voicing techniques, organ disposition, the type

of action, and the repertoire, form a whole. If you change only

one of these aspects by another, you get something else.

 

Heavily nicked and abundant low-pitched flue pipes use an

amazing volume of wind. So if you play one of them or

ten of them makes a huge difference, hence a completely

different winding system.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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A kind of "up-to-date" thinking might be summarized as this:

Wind system, voicing techniques, organ disposition, the type

of action, and the repertoire, form a whole. If you change only

one of these aspects by another, you get something else.

 

Heavily nicked and abundant low-pitched flue pipes use an

amazing volume of wind. So if you play one of them or

ten of them makes a huge difference, hence a completely

different winding system.

 

=======================

 

One of the earliest organ in the UK to use Schwimmers was the re-build at Leeds Town Hall.....a big, largely romantic instrument. That was back in the mid-60's, and I don't recall that the wind has ever been a problem since. (opened by Flor Peeters, for Pierre's information).

 

The trouble is, a number of organ-builders imitated the Schwimmer system, but got it wrong. I played an organ with very flatulant wind for many years, and various jerry-rigged attempts were made to cure the problems. The pan would counter-levitate against spring pressure from bent wire coil-springs, which due to the torque reaction, would go on their own Holy Pilgrimages. "Boing," would go one of the springs, and the whole thing sounded like an accordian until the springs were re-set.

 

Next idea.....nail them in place!

 

"Ping!" Went the nails......Holy Pilgrimages resumed as normal.

 

Second idea, put the springs in grooves.

 

"Boing!" Springs can be ever so mobile and athletic. They leapt over the convent wall, and off they went a pilgrimaging again.

 

Third idea.....change the coils for flat springs with teeth!

 

Great idea..... wind pressure soared by 1.5"wg and "baroque" took on a whole new character....sort of open-foot Wurlitzer baroque, with attitude.

 

Fourth idea...sack the organ-builder!

 

This was a huge success....the replacement chappies came along, put a couple of guides on the Schwimmer board, got the spring-rate right, and the organ sounded lovely.....well...apart from the pipes that had been so revoiced by the "cowboy" that they now no longer spoke at all on the original pressure.

 

I rectified these myself with GREAT CARE, and it took ages to get the whole thing back in perfect voice once more.

 

My conclusion is that Schwimmers are just dinky things, but don't get cheap replicas installed!!

 

MM

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Schwimmers per se are not a problem; what is the problem, is the very aim

at "rock-steady wind" in the false organ, that is, the ancient or ancient style

one.

The true baroque organs we have in Belgium display as awkward a wind

as Steinkirchen's description by C.Fisk.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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Schwimmers per se are not a problem; what is the problem, is the very aim

at "rock-steady wind" in the false organ, that is, the ancient or ancient style

one.

The true baroque organs we have in Belgium display as awkward a wind

as Steinkirchen's description by C.Fisk.

 

I seem to remember reading of some modern organs where the winding can be switched at the console from "rock-steady" to "musically-natural-breathing". Have I imagined this?

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This is absolutely true.

We have here restored ancient organs that have both the usual Ventus

electric fan and hand-blowers. The former being in use for church

services, the second for recitals.

And yes you do actually hear the difference.

 

It's a matter comparable with the temperament's. In the beginning nobody

believed the stuff could be interesting save for some maniacs. Today it is

widely accepted there is a difference in ancient music between aequal and

mean-tone temperament.

 

A "rock-steady" wind supply is perfect for a romantic, late-romantic or

post-romantic, or for a modern concert organ, but not in an ancient one.

 

Up to today there has always obtained the belief "we know better than the

ancients because of all these progresses we did between then and now"; one

of the best ideas we have got from the neo-baroque area is precisely to question

this "truth"! there is no "progress" in Art, only styles.

 

(With that I'm no baroque guy at all, quite to the contrary!)

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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  • 2 weeks later...
One of the earliest organ in the UK to use Schwimmers was the re-build at Leeds Town Hall.....a big, largely romantic instrument. That was back in the mid-60's, and I don't recall that the wind has ever been a problem since. (opened by Flor Peeters, for Pierre's information).

 

 

MM

 

 

Re-built 1982

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Yes, I do believe you're right!  Sorry!

 

====================

 

No apology necessary, I should have checked myself. I just knew that I wasn't in the UK in 1982, but I went to the opening recital at Leeds given by Flor Peeters.

 

I was actually a bit surprised to learn that it was as late as 1972....I thought I was younger at the time.

 

MM

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====================

 

No apology necessary, I should have checked myself. I just knew that I wasn't in the UK in 1982, but I went to the opening recital at Leeds given by Flor Peeters.

 

I was actually a bit surprised to learn that it was as late as 1972....I thought I was younger at the time.

 

MM

 

Yes, it definitely was 1972; I have just checked. Three things happen to you when you get old (me, not you!): you begin to lose your memory... ... ... I can't remember the other two...

 

Going back to the schwimmer subject, a long time ago I was at a recital in the (then new) Huddersfield University concert hall - the one in the converted church - where the organist stopped the recital briefly for the schwimmers to be adjusted for a particular piece, I think to make the wind less steady. I can't remember any other details, but the procedure took only a few minutes. They were adjusted internally, not from the console. I think it may have been Dame Gillian performing, but when you get old you begin to lose your... oh, I just said that, didn't I?

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